Maine Tea Party: Worse than you think

State GOP apologizes after conventioneers vandalize an eighth grade classroom

Published May 15, 2010 3:15AM (EDT)

Tea Party defenders like to accuse Tea Party critics of focusing on a tiny minority of racist, crazy or potentially violent freaks, and ignoring the vast majority of sensible, respectful law abiding folk who just support smaller government. Why, just the other day, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal pointed to the Tea Party group that played by the rules and took over the Maine GOP's convention, to push lovely and constructive Tea Party ideas into the party's platform, as an example of the productive role the movement plays.

Of course, a day later I wrote about how many crackpot ideas they got into Maine's constitution. But hey, one person's crackpot ideas are another person's political brilliance. I get that.

Is vandalism likewise in the eye of the beholder? I'm not so sure.

Thanks to Think Progress, I learned Friday that their ideas weren't all that was crazy about the Maine Tea Partiers. The state GOP just apologized to Portland's King Middle School, because conventioneers – who gathered at the Expo, but used the middle school for caucusing – unbelievably, vandalized an eighth-grade classroom. Relying on reports in the Portland Press Herald, Think Progress describes what the Tea Party caucusers did to eighth-grade teacher Paul Clifford's class:

– For seven years, Clifford has had “a collage-type poster depicting the history of the U.S. labor movement” on his classroom door. He uses it “to teach his students how to incorporate collages into their annual project on Norman Rockwell’s historic ‘Four Freedoms’ illustrations.” When Clifford returned to his classroom on Monday, after the GOP caucuses, the poster was gone; in its place was a sticker reading, “Working People Vote Republican.”

– Republicans opened a “closed cardboard box they found near Clifford’s desk” and later objected to the fact that it contained copies of the U.S. Constitution donated to the school by the American Civil Liberties Union.

– After the caucuses, “rank-and-file Republicans who were upset by what they said they had seen in Clifford’s classroom” began calling the school, objecting to student art they had seen and a sticker on a filing cabinet reading “People for the American Way — Fight the Right.”

When Clifford got to work and saw the poster had been replaced by the "Working People Vote Republican" sticker, at first he laughed, he told the Portland Press Herald, thinking, "'All right, that's funny, But then I go inside my room thinking the poster will be on my desk – and it isn't. And so now I'm like, 'You know what? This is baloney!"'

Clifford started trying to get his poster back, but meanwhile, Tea Partiers were calling the school to protest what they found in Clifford's classroom. Never mind that Norman Rockwell was once synonymous with mainstream American values. Never mind that the "Four Freedoms," as articulated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union speech (as what became known as World War II raged on) are enshrined on a cherished monument in Washington D.C.

Here's what Roosevelt actually said in his famous speech:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want--which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants--everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

Sadly, you can see what the Tea Partiers, and too many Republicans, would find objectionable: Freedom from want and freedom from fear. Because most of them believe in want and fear, as necessary to animate the corporate national security regime. (Sadly, too many Democrats seem to support that too.) And of course, the Republican right objects to the "freedom of every person to worship God in his own way," so a whole lot of the GOP is against three out of four freedoms. So much for the party of freedom and liberty. True patriots would likely rise up against the state propagation of want and fear, but that's really not what the Tea Party is about.

Whatever. It's not my cup of tea. This is America, they're entitled to their beliefs.

What I can't see is how anyone would defend trashing a public school classroom to symbolize their objections to whatever they believed was going on there. And yet the Press Herald received email from Tea Party activists defending what happened (even as the Maine GOP, to its credit, apologized to the students and teachers of King Middle School.)

Clifford's students quickly responded. Simon Johnson, a graduate of Clifford’s eighth-grade class blogged:

I am an unapologetic graduate of Paul Clifford’s eighth grade English class at King Middle School. I participated in the “Four Freedoms” expedition, and I made a poster decrying war quite similar to the one with which the Republicans took issue.

I am not brainwashed, I am not a puppet, I am not anti-American or anti-religious, and I am certainly not stupid. Paul Clifford’s class taught me to think critically, to deductively reason and, if anything, to appreciate America for all the freedoms with which I am ensured on a daily basis.

Clearly, the Knox County Republicans — who took a cherished, pro-Labor poster from Clifford’s room and who now are making slanderous and uninformed claims about Clifford — have a different agenda.

Eighth-grader Lilly O'Leary emailed the Press-Herald: "I am not being brainwashed...I am being told that I have the right to my own opinion." She added, "These people were adults and they were acting very immaturely."

But hey, the Tea Partiers are the best of American values and the future of the Republican Party, Lilly! James Taranto of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal vouches for them. Get with the program!

Lilly O'Leary and Simon Johnson are patriots. The Tea Party cowards who vandalized an eighth-grade classroom are not.



By Joan Walsh

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